« back
Kate Jongbloed

World Tuberculosis Day: Five facts about girls, women and TB

Kate Jongbloed

Tuberculosis (aka, ‘TB’) is one of the top 10 biggest killers in developing countries.

We don’t hear about this infectious disease much here in Canada, where health issues like heart disease, stroke and cancer are the top causes of death. Even so, every year the world recognizes World Tuberculosis Day as we continue the fight to stop deaths from this treatable disease. Yesterday was the big day, and today we’re looking at how tuberculosis affects girls and women.

1. More men & boys have TB, but girls and women are still at risk

Tuberculosis is the seventh biggest killer of men in developing countries, and the ninth biggest killer of women. Although more men have the disease, every year, over three million women get tuberculosis, and about 700,000 die from it.

2. TB and poverty go hand in hand

“It is the poorest people from the poorest countries who are most affected by tuberculosis. Not only are they more vulnerable to the disease because of their living and working conditions, they are also plunged deeper into poverty as a consequence of tuberculosis. A person with TB loses, on average, 20-30% of annual household income due to illness,” says the World Health Organization.

3. Are women & girls with TB getting the care they need?

We don’t know if the reason fewer women have tuberculosis than men is actually because they’re less likely to get the disease. Experts from the World Health Organization are concerned that low rates in women might be because women aren’t getting tested and treated as much as men. Barriers related to their gender, such as financial and cultural obstacles to tuberculosis care, may be behind the lower numbers.

4. There’s a connection between HIV and TB

More men get and have tuberculosis than women around the world. When you add HIV into the equation, it is a different story. HIV weakens the immune system, leaving people with HIV vulnerable to tuberculosis. Because young women are more at risk of HIV than young men, young women face high risk of TB infection as well. Worldwide, for both men and women, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people with HIV.

5. TB has a big impact on families

“As tuberculosis affects women mainly in their economically and reproductively active years, the impact of the disease is also strongly felt by their children and families,” says the World Health Organization. Tuberculosis often affects the poorest of the poor. When a mother or father falls ill with tuberculosis, the financial burden of treatment and care directs money away from children’s food, shelter and education.

Plan taking action

Too many cases of tuberculosis in Senegal (a country in West Africa) go undetected. Lack of awareness about the disease means that those infected often do not seek care and treatment. Plan Canada has partnered with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on a five year program to combat the disease.

To reduce sickness and death caused by tuberculosis, the program helps communities get better at identifying – and then treating – people who have the disease. Raising awareness, stopping stigma and discrimination, and improving patient care are at the centre of this anti-tuberculosis project!

(photo credit: Esparta)